It's hard to believe that the Red Bull X-Fighters tour has already reached its fifth and penultimate (next to last) stop. This week found our merry band of athletes and organizers hustling onto flights from LA, California to Poznan, Poland is an industrial city of some five hundred thousand people on Poland's west side -- closer to Berlin, Germany than the Polish capital of Warsaw. The venue is a new soccer stadium, just constructed in anticipation of the 2012 European Championships.
The course here in Poznan is a giant dirt park built by Dane Herron and his super-creative crew. It features giant dirt take offs and four different kinds of ramps, including the terrifying, but awesome 110-foot booter. Transfer lines abound, as do the slightly kinked lines that would make for a fun freestyle course if you weren't trying to compete.
The story here was supposed to be the three-way battle for the championship between Andre Villa, Nate Adams and Dany Torres. Adams and Torres have each won two of the previous stops and both are allowed a zero-score "throw out" that they can use before the finals in Sydney, Australia next month. Villa, though, has been Mr. Consistency and his high finishes have had him sitting at the top of the charts.
Villa's biggest worry at this event was not his competition, but his seriously broken left foot. His metatarsal bone is fractured, yet he showed up for practice, screaming in pain on the occasional landing that went long or short. As he rolled out for his final pre-qualifying practice session he commented, "It's like a cold shower: You know it's going to hurt, but you just have to get in there."
He told me the story of his travels since injuring his foot in Madrid: "I couldn't do much and had the lift session at the gym just to move and get some bloodaround. I had one small session before I went to X Games -- just ten or fifteen minutes to get used to the bike again. Still was not sure I could ride, butfigured how hard could it be?"
"The foot was feeling better and better each day. I was just stuck on a flight for 24 hours and did surprisingly well, actually. Again it will be painful, but if I have good landings and if I don't overshoot or case anything I think it should be fine."
Those words seem eerie now, considering the fact that I am typing this piece while Villa is lying in a hospital bed with a broken femur after a brutal crash in his qualifier, but that is the risk at the high levels of this game.
What it does mean is that this X-Fighters stop has turned into a two-man show. Most of the guys looked so careful on this course, but Torres and Adams were both pulling the biggest tricks and fighting to find the best lines. The advantage would seem to be with Adams, who is powering himself around the course on the big Honda four-stroke and using its power to full advantage. Short in-runs are no worry to him.
One horse might be out of the race, but the race is definitely not over, and nomatter which of the riders takes a victory here in front of 40,000 Polish fans, the final tour result will not be decided until the last stop next month in Sydney, Australia.